Standing face to face, staring into the tortured eyes of addiction in an alleyway on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside last Sunday, Chris Klack saw a reflection of what might have been.
In that moment is the recognition for him that it is real people behind the blurred images on the almost daily news reports of drug abuse and overdoses.
And like him, these people have or had loving families, friends and dreams, but unlike him, they took a wrong turn on their journey and all that they once had has disappeared down the drain with death lingering on the doorstep.
Klack was one of four members of the Penticton Vees who went to Vancouver to see first hand the ravages of the drug epidemic.
The purpose is to help them be better able to convey their message to the young people of their community through the team’s drug prevention program.
“I met normal guys like me. They were into sports and athletics, they were good people and they are still really good people but they’re addicted. They made one bad choice,” said Klack who spent most of Sunday and part of Monday in Vancouver with teammates, Adam Scheel, Kenny Johnson and Greg Brydon.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life, obviously you see it on the news and stuff but being there two feet away from it, people shooting up heroin, and crystal meth and cocaine, fentanyl and all the rest of that. It’s very, very public, it’s right out in the open for you to see. It’s scary and it’s sad and you can’t believe that’s happening.
“The lifestyle they’re living, if they’re not in the streets they’re in a crackhouse. There’s concrete everywhere and mould everywhere. It smells like piss, it smells like puke, crap but that’s the only life they know.”
Walking through the alleyways, and along Hastings Street and in the parks, the players talk to many of those people addicted to drugs, plenty were willing to talk about their lives and others wanted nothing to do with them.
As difficult as it was to see people in that state, Klack said the experience was an eye opener and only made him take his place in the community as a role model for young people that much more seriously.
He also believes it will help him when it comes to telling the kids in the schools he visits about the dangers of drugs.
“Honestly, just seeing it first hand, how public and how violent it is and you can’t believe that’s even in our world but it really opens up your eyes and you can speak from the heart,” said Klack.
“If we can just tell the kids a little bit of what goes on and prevent addiction, that’s a success.”
He added the Vees are the first B.C. Hockey League to have started sending players to Vancouver for this purpose, having sent four players there last year on the inaugural trip.
In addition to talking with the people on the streets, the players also took along a number of boxes containing warm clothing and other items that students from Oliver Elementary School brought them earlier in the week for their trip.
“And, if we can prevent just one out of every 10 kids or one out of five kids or one out of however many kids, that’s a success, that’s saving lives,” said Klack.